Measure Twice, Cut Once. Ctrl+Z Afterwards.

Much of the advice given to aspiring authors seems to be centered around one major thought: if you’re not actively writing at any given moment, you should be.  Simple as that.  Write, write, write.  Write even when you feel blocked, because something might shake loose.  Push through, because the glorious land of inspiration lies just beyond, and spewing out all the nonsense in your brain will undoubtedly get you there every single time.

Now, I half agree.  I think there are times that you need to turn off the editor in your head and just go for it.  No harm ever came from getting something down on paper, even if you’re not sure if you like where the scene is going, or you think your character is a prat.  You can always cut it later.

But that’s the important bit.  Remember to go back.  Just because you managed to write it even though you were feeling blah about it doesn’t mean it’s good.  We all get attached to what we write by virtue of the fact that we have written it.  But sometimes it’s just not good, and it has to go.  There’s no shame in it.  Not everything you do will be genius.  Practically nothing of what I do is, either.  Turn off the editor, by all means.  Just don’t forget to turn it back on again.

If I’m not sure about something, I mark it in red, and then return to it later and give it a critical read.  Sometimes I just need to give myself a little distance from it before realizing it’s not quite as tedious and awful as I thought.  Like most people, I get bored writing the necessary exposition, and the intermediate bits when no one is doing anything particularly interesting, but stuff needs to happen so the good part can come along.

I’m in that sort of lull right now, in my new story.  My main girl is somewhere dull, and yeah, character development is supposed to happen that will eventually move the plot forward, but she’s spent the last three paragraphs making lunch, after spending most of her life being weepy and timid, and I want her to stop being so lame.  I want the bad guys to launch a full-scale invasion of her stupid little manor house and kidnap her and make her be interesting, because she’s annoying the hell out of me.  I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like that sometimes.  About characters in general, not this one specifically.  Please don’t hate my characters unless I ask you to.

Will I cut the lunch scene?  Yeah, probably.  It’s not very important.  Will I find something interesting for her to do while she’s in the middle of nowhere?  I certainly hope so.  That’s why I sent Potential Love Interest #2 along with her in the first place.  Will she find her footing and get over all the horrible things I’ve been doing to her?  Of course.  That’s why I’m writing her story.  But right now, I’m so sick of it, that I just can’t even think about her whole world.

Could I go on and write another scene, then fill in the blanks later?  Sure.  I do that sometimes.  I did that yesterday, and got some good stuff out of it.  But I’m tired, and it’s too nice out to concentrate, and I’m so burned out with trying to figure out the nuances of who is going to betray whom and how and when that I’m starting to resent my story.

And that’s where I start to disagree with the “write all the time” theory.  Knowing when to take a break is just as valuable, if not more so, than knowing when to force yourself to keep going.

My advice is more along these lines: write until you can write no more, then stop.  Make yourself stop.  Don’t start writing again until you’re absolutely bursting with the pent-up energy of holding it all in, and then write and write and write until the cycle repeats.

Intentional withholding reawakens that childlike anticipation and impatience in us, and it goes a long way towards refreshing your mind and rekindling whatever passion you had for your plot to begin with.  I’m told that works in other areas of life, as well, but that’s something else all together.

That method might not work for you, just as the constant outpouring doesn’t always work for me.  That’s okay.  It’s just my opinion.  And I guess technically, I’m writing this blog instead, so I’m still doing something, but I don’t really feel like it counts.

See? Flowers. This is what I accomplished today.

But anyway, that’s my thought for the day.  I spent all afternoon at the park, soaking up the sunshine, so I’m feeling relaxed and lazy and unable to understand why everyone in my book likes fighting with each other so much when they can just go look at some pretty flowers instead.

How do you handle being frustrated with your own work?

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Say Cheese

One of the things I like best about self-publishing in general – and digital publishing in particular – is the amount of control it gives me.  Okay, that sounds a little sinister, but you know what I mean.  Like many writers, I have a streak of the rabid, wild-eyed perfectionist in me.  I cringe at typos (especially my won) and spend hours staring at the screen, trying to find exactly the right word to express what I mean.  Most of the time, it turns out the word doesn’t even exist in the English language,

James Murray was the principle editor of the OED. He died before it was completed. He was only three years old when he first got the job.

but you can’t really argue with the OED.  It’s bigger than I am, and the price tag alone packs enough of a wallop.

A printed story is a stagnant being.  Once it’s out there, you can’t go messing around with it.  It’s not like the old days (the really, really old days) when stories were living things, constantly repeated by different people and embellished and customized to keep listeners interested and involved. I like that notion of story telling.  Instead of skilled bards around the hearth, though, we’ve got to content ourselves with fanfic writers.

But in these modern, technologically driven times, writing a book doesn’t have to be like taking a photograph, as the title of this post so cleverly implies.  And self-publishing, whatever its faults, is an excellent training ground for people who aren’t sure they want to put their darling baby manuscripts into someone else’s hands, to be poked and prodded and freeze-dried into a commercially acceptable form.

You do have to let go eventually, and push that “publish” button, and you do have to let people read it without being able to say “well, but what I really meant here was this,” which is the hardest part.  You can master that without a traditional book deal, however, and for me, at least, I think I prefer it that way.   One step at a time.

And at least with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, which is what I’m using, the editing process can easily continue after listing your work, albeit in a sort of clumsy and annoying way.  Updates to your book don’t get transferred to people who already bought it, despite the vaunted Whispernet syncing tool.  And you still have to wait up to 12 hours for revisions to go through (although it’s never taken more than 6 for me).

I know this because I’ve made several changes in the couple of days since I released my story on a total whim.  I had done a last round of editing a few months ago, anticipating some agent queries, and I thought that was sufficient. Five typos and a million run-on sentences later, after all my close friends and family had already bought their copies, I realized I was wrong.  Oh well.  I said I was a perfectionist.  I didn’t say I was any good at it.

I did an incredibly speedy re-edit (480 pages in six hours), chopping up sentences, making paragraphs smaller and easier to read on electronic devices, and making some of my language understandable for people who don’t know what I sound like in real life.  If you buy a copy now, that’s the version you’ll get.

You’ll also get the new cover, which is a product of a 3AM burst of discontent.  I’m not a graphic designer, and although I have a serviceable knowledge of Photoshop (and its totally free substitute, GIMP) and an idea of how I want things to look, I can’t always translate that perfectly into reality.  Having an eye-catching cover is important, of course, as is having a presentable website.  But that, as Alton Brown says, is another show.

I hope to be able to give my work over to a professional editor and publisher some day.  I hope to see copies of my books in print, and I hope to be happy with the final version, without feeling a need for all the tweaking.  But until then, the update button is still my friend, and I’ll happily take advantage of that if I need to.